Group pursuing citywide push for solar power

A group hoping to increase the number of Columbus residents using solar power to generate electricity for their homes is inviting the public to learn more about its efforts.

The Columbus Community Solar Initiative will have a public information session at 7 p.m. June 8 at the Columbus Area Visitors Center to talk about how local residents can consider solar as part of a goal of installing 1,000 solar panels on local homes this year.

Michael A. Mullett, Columbus, the group’s volunteer administrative coordinator, explained the initiative grew out of efforts to block a natural gas merchant plant in Columbus back in 1999.

The group evolved into two separate groups, the Energy Matters Community Coalition and the Winding Waters Group of the Sierra Club, who are partnering on the initiative, Mullett said.

The initiative is focusing on identifying and assisting interested residents, businesses, community organizations and governmental entities willing to pursue installing solar to minimize costs for all involved, he said.

The group has about 60 to 70 people on its mailing list so far and hopes to add to that list with the June 8 meeting.

After a screening process, Third Sun Solar of Athens, Ohio, was chosen as the partner company on the solar panel installation, Mullett said.

Geoff Greenfield, Third Sun Solar president, said in a press release that the company was thrilled to be a part of the Columbus community accelerating the shift to clean energy.

Michael Smucker, the company’s director of growth, said Third Sun Solar is working with eight Columbus homeowners who are part of the Phase 1 portion of the process, working toward installing solar panels this year. The company will begin working with more individual homeowners after the June 8 meeting, which Smucker will attend to answer questions, he said.

Questions typically range from simple ones such as how solar works, to technical ones involving how much energy is generated and what the return on investment will be, Smucker said.

Smucker said having 1,000 solar panels installed in Columbus by the end of the year is realistic, when compared with other community programs the company has worked in. He complimented the local groups about their passion and persistence in pursuing clean energy for the Columbus community.

The company is a licensed electrical general contractor that has installed more than 600 projects and 10,000 kilowatts of solar energy systems in 12 states since 2000.

It will provide each participant with an individual proposal, Mullett said. By approaching the installation as a group project and choosing a single installer, each participant can save up to 20 percent off the cost of the system, he said.

Federal tax credits for renewable clean energy have also been extended, bringing the discount up to 30 percent, he said. For example, for a residential home that plans to install a 5 kilowatt system, involving 18 to 20 solar panels to be installed on a home’s roof, the cost would be about $14,000. But with the discount and tax credits, it could be under $10,000 for the system, he said.

“The cost of these systems has come down, and the efficiency has gone up,” Mullett said.

Mullett, who already has solar panels on his home and is considering adding more, said people can no longer wait on politicians to solve the environmental catastrophe that is ahead for the next generations as a result of the United States’ current energy policies and practices.

Other families that have installed solar panels locally are listed on the initiative’s website, in addition to the Unitarian Congregation of Columbus on the city’s west side.

“Climate change is real,” Mullett said. “We have a very strong motivation for a lot of this.”

If you go

What: Columbus Community Solar Initiative

When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. June 8

Where: Columbus Area Visitors Center

Where to learn more: energymatterscolumbus.org/2016/02/01/solar-initiative-documentation/

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.